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The Best of Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters
June 24, 2011
This FAQ page provides answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the book Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters edited by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower, and Charles Foley and about related Conan Doyle biographical items. Other details about this book, including a book review and a backgrounder on creating the book by one of its co-editors, can be found at the main Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters description page.
Index to FAQ
Conan Doyle lived from 1859 to 1930. His letters in the book start in 1867 and end in 1920. The editors include some family history and background on his childhood at the beginning and a very brief summary of his final decade.
Most of the letters are written by Conan Doyle, but some are written to him. A few are written by relatives to other people and contain intimate family information.
The letters are uncensored and nothing was removed because it was too sensitive or politically incorrect. Some repetitive material has been omitted from various letters. Such omissions are not indicated in these letters but they mainly involve Conan Doyle's health and investments. Salutations and closings are usually removed. The editors quote parts of some letters, most of them written to Conan Doyle, in their connecting narrative. The British and American editions have the same omissions. See also the following two items.
More than ninety percent of the letters were undated. The editors analyzed the letters and placed them in chronological order. They added a heading for month and year to many but not all of the letters. Although Conan Doyle typically gave the entire date or nothing, editorially assigned dates are not distinguishable from original dates.
Many letters include a location, but it's not indicated whether that was written by hand or printed on stationery.
Conan Doyle wrote many thousands of letters. This book focuses on letters to his family and a few close confidants. The editors drew from many collections, including the family's long-held archive now at the British Museum, to select the most interesting letters.
As with any historic figure, some of Conan Doyle's letters to his family no longer survive. In fact, since his sons were very protective of their father's image, it's almost certain that his family destroyed some letters after his death. In addition, a few other letters may exist in collections that the editors did not examine. However, this book contains the vast majority of Conan Doyle's surviving family letters.
The editors provide annotations and a connecting narrative for the book. They frequently quote from Conan Doyle's autobiography to describe events not covered in the letters. The book also contains some previously unpublished material by Conan Doyle, including his only known example of advertising copywriting and a speech given before the Prince of Wales. The book includes more than 70 photographs.
Many of the letters come from the Conan Doyle family archive, and this is the first book of Conan Doyle's private letters ever published. For more details, see the History and Backgrounder sections of the main page about Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters.
Many of the original letters, especially those Conan Doyle wrote to his mother, are held at the British Library. Additional sources include the University of Minnesota, the New York Public Library, the Toronto Public Library, the University of Virginia, and the Fred Kittle Collection. A set of the research and production materials for this book has been donated by co-editor Jon Lellenberg to the Newberry Library, Chicago's independent humanities research library, to become part of the C. Frederick Kittle Collection of Doyleana there. For information, contact Jon Lellenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or Newberry curator Martha Briggs at email@example.com.
Both A Life in Letters and his autobiography Memories and Adventures tell Conan Doyle's life story in his own words, but this book offers more details and a more candid description of his life. It also includes a number of excerpts from his autobiography. I recommend reading this book and a recent Conan Doyle biography before consulting his autobiography. However, if you want his autobiography, it is available at Amazon US and Amazon UK.
You should never rely on a single book for information. A biography will incorporate more sources but this book will provide more details and context for quotations. Since this book ends at 1920 with only a brief summary of Conan Doyle's last decade, you will need to consult a biography for his life from 1921 to 1930. I'd suggest getting both this book and one of the most recent Conan Doyle biographies as noted below.
To get a full sense of Conan Doyle's entire life, I suggest reading both A Life in Letters (Amazon US or UK) and The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes by Andrew Lycett (Amazon US or UK). The former offers a unique first-hand perspective on Doyle as a person, and incorporates considerable detail from Sir Arthur's autobiography and research from Stashower's earlier Conan Doyle biography. The latter covers his entire life, and benefits from access to the Conan Doyle archives and extensive source notes.
Two other fairly recent Conan Doyle biographies are excellent choices and were recognized by the Mystery Writers of America., but the authors did not have access to the Conan Doyle archives at that time. Martin Booth's The Doctor and the Detective was nominated for an Edgar. Daniel Stashower, co-editor of Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters, wrote the Edgar-winning Conan Doyle biography Teller of Tales.
Several of his biographies have been well-researched, but generally do not rigorously identify the source and location of all their information. Most include bibliographies and few if any footnotes. However, Andrew Lycett in The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes (Amazon US or UK) does provide extensive source notes. Another exception is the 1964 original French version of Pierre Nordon's work on Conan Doyle, but this is more of a literary study than a conventional biography. Its English translation is abridged and does not include many of the footnotes. Although not a complete biography, Richard Lancelyn Green's The Uncollected Sherlock Holmes contains a heavily-footnoted 146-page essay on Conan Doyle's life.
This website's main page on the book includes a review of Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters, a backgrounder on creating the book by one of its co-editors, and links to other reviews in the News and Press Reports section.
Yes, both editions have the same letters.
The American edition includes a few explanations of material that may not be familiar to American readers. However, the letters and photographs in both editions are identical and most of the annotation and connecting narrative is the same. The American edition costs less than the British edition, especially for buyers in America.
Since it was initially written for the U.S. publisher, the American edition can be considered the first edition. However, the HarperPress book will appear about six weeks earlier and is the first British edition.
Americans can purchase the British edition from British. booksellers such as Amazon U.K.
If you already have a U.S. Amazon account, your existing Amazon.com e-mail address and password will be accepted on Amazon Canadian and European sites including their U.K. website. Click the following link to order the British edition from Amazon U.K. Note that it will be sent from the U.K., so international shipping costs will apply if you live in North America (approximately £7 or US$14 for airmail 5-7 day delivery).
This page includes a review of the book, a backgrounder about it's creation, news, and other details.
The census identifies the current owners of items from the Conan Doyle family archive, including many of the letters included in the book A Life in Letters.
There's lots more information on this site about Conan Doyle manuscripts, letters, archival material and various rarities.
Do you have a question about the book or the Census of the Conan Doyle Collection? Send me an email.